The Converge Quartet is an Ann Arbor based string quartet dedicated to studying and performing works by University of Michigan student composers. Members Megan Rohrer (MM violin ‘20), Malhar Kute (BM violin and BSE materials science and engineering ‘20), Ryan McDonald (MM viola ‘17), and Hanna Rumora (BM cello ‘18; MM cello and chamber music ‘19) have created a distanced performance of a new work titled “She-e-e-e-e,” composed by Rohrer.
In this interview, the Converge Quartet discusses their musical process and their journey at SMTD.
What does it mean to you to be an artist in these times?
(Megan speaking): It’s an interesting dilemma to be performance-based artists during a time when live performances aren’t really part of life; and especially during a time of global crisis when it seems there is so much in the world that needs care and fixing. I’ve been thinking a lot about ways that we can use our skills to take care of one another and all the communities that we’re in. Sometimes, for me, this might tap into my skills as an artist, as a violinist, musician, or teacher, but I’ve also been reflecting on the ways that it taps into skills as a human being that look nothing like my trade. Observing and adapting is part of my artistic practice when I’m playing music, and to observe and adapt to ways I might use my hands, body, empathy, time, car, or capacity to learn new skills that might serve my community– I think all of this is part of being an artist too.
On another level, the shake-up-ness of the pandemic has created a lot of space for me personally to explore my creative practice in ways that I otherwise might not have taken the pause to try (for example, composing a fugue!). I value each person’s expressive reaction to what’s going on and admire all the growth that is happening, even if it’s personal and internal and we might not see it.
(Hanna speaking): Echoing Megan’s thoughts, I think one of the most important things that we can do right now is support other artists, both by lifting the voices of the artists around us but also by collaborating with those peers to work through the innumerable challenges we face together. Converge is positioned perfectly to do these things; our mission of sharing the new works of young composers can share their voices, while also working side-by-side to create something together.
What inspires you as a performer/collaborator?
We are inspired by our composer peers!! We love decoding a brand new score, and working together with composers from the beginning of the rehearsal process to grow their vision into a reality. It’s a totally different experience than learning, say, a piece from the Western Classical canon which has already been assigned value by musicians and listeners who have preceded us. Performing a new work gives us a responsibility to communicate the essence of that work to everyone in the audience, so listeners can see the value in the incredible art that is being made by composers right now.
What is special about Michigan?
SMTD provides so many opportunities for collaboration! The environment is ripe for creative projects to take place, which is perfect for our mission. We’ve met so many composer peers and faculty mentors who are excited to work together to not only make live performances of new works happen, but to really dig into these works and bring them to their fullest expressive potential. Risks are encouraged, and we’ve gotten to explore so many ideas of what a string quartet can sound like.
What inspires you?
(Megan speaking): I’m inspired by individual creativity in all its facets. I’m inspired by what people play when they have no instructions, and what people play when given a few instructions, and also what’s possible with extremely detailed notated instructions. I’m inspired by the sounds that my composer peers hear in their heads and bring into fruition through writing, and I’m also inspired by the deep listening to what’s happening and our in-the-moment reactions that may never be able to be planned. Also, I’m inspired by fugues. There’s something so satisfying about four parts intertwining, mirroring, interrupting, conversing, (converging?????), and creating big emotional shapes.
(Hanna speaking): I’m inspired by playing in small chamber groups. While there is undoubtedly something special about being one player in the context of a full symphony, or in performing as a soloist, chamber music is the most exciting to me. A string quartet in particular is special: we share prior knowledge that overlaps in a lot of ways, while each bringing an individual perspective to everything we play. It’s string quartet magic.
How have you adapted your artistic practice during the pandemic? Unexpected opportunities?
The pandemic gave us the opportunity to experiment with multi-track recording, which is something we had never done before. Curious about the possibilities for how together we could be as a quartet while playing separately with a master track, we decided to go straight for an intricate fugue with lots of quickly moving parts that need to fit together perfectly. It was a learning experience, and we found ourselves “rehearsing” in different ways than we ever have before (picture a group chat with text bubbles about what kind of vibrato we want to be using at measure 94). Once we got it all together, hearing the fully realized fugue was SO satisfying. We’re excited by the possibilities of digital projects– hopefully there are more to come!!
Do you view music as a platform for social justice? If so, how do you incorporate that into your work?
We absolutely understand music and the music economy as a site for social justice work. A big part of our mission has always been to perform works that might not otherwise see a performance, and to elevate and support young composers. As a quartet, we strongly believe in using our platform to develop relationships and perform works by composers who are marginalized by racism, economic elitism, able-ism, and sexism that prevails in the classical music world. We also believe in reparations and in re-allocating funding towards people who are economically disenfranchised. These are some of the things that we think about as we take on new projects, apply for grants, and program our concerts.
What is your current inspiration?
We just started a socially distanced collaboration with SMTD composer Gabriel Fynsk, and are so excited to put together his masterpiece as soon as it is safe to do so! We are inspired by our peers here in Ann Arbor, and also by all the composers and performers who are continuing to make music during the pandemic.